Gabino Iglesias was a struggler artist for many years. A native of Puerto Rico, he’d found his way to Austin in 2008 with nothing but $236 in his bank account, and a chance at a new life in UT’s postgraduate program in journalism. He worked odd jobs, including selling life insurance and teaching online classes at Southern New Hampshire University.
His debut novel is the best place to start. Zero SaintsHe also ventured into publishing in 2012. His critically acclaimed work was embraced by small and dedicated readers. He had several side jobs, including a teaching job at high school in journalism and ethnic studies. But it wasn’t enough to sustain his lifestyle. All of this was lost when the pandemic struck. His day job was cut and his income sources dried up.
Futilely sending out resumes on Indeed, Iglesias finally threw caution to the wind and put his full efforts into finishing a novel he’d started on lunch breaks in the teacher’s lounge at IDEA Montopolis. Mario was the protagonist. He, too, is a proud Puerto Rican living in the capital. Mario struggled with unforgiving healthcare systems that could only strip him of his resentment, and have the potential to make Mario desperate.
That’s the basis of The Devil Comes HomeIglesias wrote the book at a fast pace from July to October 2021. This book, which was released Aug. 2, is drawing parallels with the work of Denis Johnson (Cormac McCarthy), and H.P. Lovecraft and the filmmaker David Lynch. The New York Times A gushing profile Iglesias praised the film last week and plans for a Hollywood version are underway.
Tackling everything from border racism to religious extremism and our country’s role in fueling the drug trade, it’s a page-turner that transcends genre. It’s a blend of horror and noir as well as magical realism that makes it a great read for Halloween. The author sat down to talk about the latest wave of horror and deflect those stubborn questions. Breaking Bad Comparatives are key to understanding and finding compassion even in the most difficult parts of our humanity.
You narrator, Mario, as well as his meth-addicted friend, Brian, are classic Austinites in the sense that they’re forever criticizing the city and saying it peaked a decade ago. Is that how much you are in this sentiment?
It’s funny how I enjoy making fun of my city. You will find lines. These are true. Back in 2008 it was a lot cooler. Now it’s just hipsters, Californians, and really expensive festivals. But I loved it so much that I’m still here in 2022. I’m not going anywhere. It’s been really hard, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s treated me well, and I don’t think I could’ve had a writing career outside of it.
In what ways has your community supported you?
The community is strong and there are many great independent bookstores, such as BookPeople and Monkeywrench Books. The Michener Center is located at UT, as well as publications such Austin Monthly Writers can continue to contribute and buyers can buy. It’s a thriving literary scene.
Please tell me all about the events that brought you to your goal. You are the Devil.
My night job was to teach at SNHU, and I wanted to start my literary criticism career. Then, I started writing for NPR. San Francisco Chronicle. During the day, I also taught classes at IDEA Montopolis. I was there in March  I was told they weren’t renewing my contract. It was all basically over. Because no one is hiring, I spent hours sending resumes to Indeed. My anxiety was killing me so I decided to just write. It was all the anger, worry, and fear that I had been feeling and I put them in my book.
The novel begins with a leukemia diagnosis that leads to Mario’s life spiraling out of control. That’s the impetus behind the horror that eventually unfolds with brujas, ghosts, and elements of the occult. Which of your experiences influenced that part?
When I lost my job at Citizen’s Inc. [selling life insurance]I went years without insurance. I couldn’t afford to get sick. It is an unfortunate reality that so many in the country live with. People die every day here because they can’t afford to get treatment. It was clear to me that I would tell the story of the country’s broken healthcare system and the racism it loves to ignore. I think Trump’s presidency brought it all out into the light. It was therapy, drinking and hitting walls or all three. This was the best option. I could see it on the page.
I know you’ve heard the comparisons to Breaking Bad. Did that happen by accident?
It’s always weird to explain that I’m a movie guy. I don’t watch TV series. I know the names of several. Breaking Bad, but I’ve never seen it. The inspiration for this book was the desire to share. This story. This was also a result of the horror that I had been reading. Alma Katsu (Silvia Moreno Garcia), Stephen Graham Jones, Paul Tremblay, Josh Malerman, and Stephen Graham Jones were all taking the lead. People were reading horror that wasn’t just Clive Barker or Stephen King, and that made me happy. It was important to me to create something that would be able to stand among these giants. It was that fire.
Did you do research to prepare yourself for such a subject, especially on Mexican cartels and drug trade?
The fact that I spoke with someone from this world, who actually had the first hand knowledge of it was very unusual. It is rare for people to be willing or able to live with it. To It is yours to share. But there’s this idea that the underworld only exists for people who belong to it, but there’s 5,000 members of the Aryan Brotherhood in Dallas. The first step of my research consisted in listening and talking with people. Additionally, there’s a lot of literature online about what’s going on in the streets from academics who study gang activity and how they organize themselves. You’d also be surprised how much I saw those two years I was taking the bus.
The reader will find positive attitudes to be one of the most fascinating parts of your novel. For instance, a trans character named La Reina who’s a top enforcer for a Mexican drug kingpin.
There’s no reason to be a bad guy And I am a douche. I also know what it’s like to grow up in a toxic macho culture, where ‘gay’ was used as an insult. It often boils down to each individual, which is what I tried to portray in my novel. If you have a brother that just so happens to be in love with someone who’s trans, you have a choice: Am I going to stay an ignorant asshole, or am I going to look beyond that and see the humanity in the situation? The result was a far more entertaining and compassionate bad guy.
I think it’s one of the greatest tricks you pull off in this book, because even an assassin like Juanca gains your sympathy.
It’s all about balance. Many people approach life this way.A triple bacon cheeseburger with beer and a healthy diet from Monday to Friday is possible if I do my cardio and eat well. These negotiations are also done on a personal level. It’s OK to want to punch Ted Cruz in the face if you’re a very nice person to everyone else you encounter. Be kind to yourself. F*ck Ted Cruz, but I’m going to love everyone else. It’s balance.
You have moments that are quite scary, such as the monstrous passage through an underground drug mule channel. But you also have these very subtle moments—such as a passing glance at something squirming inside a murky aquarium—that are almost even more terrifying. Do you enjoy using this kind of cleverness in fiction?
There’s this older gentleman who goes to my gym. His left arm is covered in a huge tattoo that depicts a naked, blue-eyed demon. Then he’s got a red one on the opposite arm. I don’t want to know the story behind those tattoos because it’s almost better for me to wonder and come up with my own ideas. It’s the same thing in my writing.
Zero Saints, there’s a guy who’s being tortured. He is forced to cut his fingers and put them in a bucket that contains something moving. Are you going to tell me about a little monster? No! Whatever the reader comes up with in their mind is probably better than anything I could’ve dreamt up. These nuggets allow readers to unleash their creativity. To this day I get email asking me what in the bucket.
This interview was edited for clarity, length and clarity.